Shoreline public access is an important common law right that is shared by local residents and visitors alike. The right of access to Hawaii’s shorelines includes the right of transit along the shoreline and within beach transit corridors. Beach transit corridors are defined as the areas extending seaward of the shoreline and these areas are considered public property (HRS §115-5, HRS §205A-1). One of the common issues that can limit shoreline public access in Hawaii is shoreline vegetation. Certain types of vegetation are known to grow rapidly along the shorelines of Hawaii – particularly Naupaka, Beach Morning Glory, and Beach Heliotrope. When shoreline vegetation is left unmaintained, it can encroach into beach transit corridors and limit shoreline public access.
Coastal landowners are required to maintain the vegetation along the seaward boundary of their property to ensure that it does not inhibit the ability of the public to access the shoreline. In the past, some coastal landowners have made efforts to induce or cultivate vegetation along the shoreline to create a privacy buffer and, in some cases, attempt to alter the location of the natural shoreline. A person commits the offense of obstructing access to public property if the person, by action or by having installed a physical impediment, intentionally prevents a member of the public from traversing a beach transit corridor. Obstructing access to public property is a misdemeanor.
OCCL is the lead agency with authority for maintaining public access along Hawaii’s shorelines. Along beach transit corridors where the abutting landowner’s human-induced, enhanced, or unmaintained vegetation interferes or encroaches with beach transit corridors, the Department of Land and Natural Resources may require the abutting landowner to remove the landowner’s interfering or encroaching vegetation (HRS §115-5 (b)). For cases in which shoreline vegetation may inhibit shoreline public access, the Department will issue a Notice of Violation (NOV) to the abutting landowner instructing them to remove the encroaching vegetation. Property owners who do not comply with the NOV are subject to fines of $1000 for a second conviction and $2000 for any subsequent convictions.
OCCL will generally send property owners a Request for Compliance to Control Vegetation in the Beach Transit Corridor as the first step in seeking compliance with the law.
You can learn more about shoreline public access at the University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant’s site: Coastal Access in Hawaiʻi
Legislative statutes governing access can be found in Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 115, Public Access to Coastal and Inland Recreational Areas and HRS Chapter 198D, Hawaiʻi Statewide Trail and Access System